LIVINGSTON — A vote to settle an ongoing legal dispute with Livingston Parish’s former road engineering firm failed Monday night, with some Parish Council members saying the case needs to be heard by a judge.
The vote was 6-3 against settlement, with council members Joan Landry, Sonya Collins and Ricky Goff casting the only votes in favor of resolving the dispute.
Alvin Fairburn & Associates sued the parish in April 2012 for terminating its contract for road engineering work without cause. The parish then sued the firm for reimbursement of some of the fees paid for that work, claiming the firm had overbilled.
The parish had been in periodic settlement talks with Fairburn since July, but the firm’s attorney indicated in an email circulated among council members Monday that the council had dragged its feet long enough.
“My orders are to proceed forward on all litigation and let the chips fall where they may,” Fairburn’s attorney, Brad Rhorer, wrote to parish legal adviser Chris Moody.
Rhorer said certain council members “have made a (soon to be short) career out of persecuting AFA,” and he had spent “an extraordinary amount of time and client goodwill” trying to keep a settlement offer on the table while the council repeatedly delayed a vote on the matter.
Rhorer said Fairburn and others, whom he did not name, “have repeatedly told me that the council has no real interest in settling. I now believe them.”
“I don’t care how the council votes Monday night,” Rhorer said in his email. “If everyone agrees to the settlement, great. If there is no settlement, great.”
Rhorer said Fairburn remains confident the firm will win the roadwork lawsuits, its defamation lawsuit against two council members and a $5 million claim Fairburn filed against the parish in federal court after “certain council members began pounding their chests about ‘suing the monitors’ ” for cleanup work done in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.
In voting against the settlement, Councilman Jim Norred said it came down to a question of whether the priority is conserving what the parish is spending on attorney fees or sending a message that a firm cannot overbill the parish and get away with it. Norred said the council should leave it to the court to decide.
Goff said the parish had spent enough money already in pursuing the case.
“I feel we stood on principle, we made a statement and we have a strong case,” Goff said. “But the question is how much am I willing to spend of your taxpaying dollars to drive that all the way to the house? I think we’ve spent enough.”
The parish has spent about $265,000 to-date fighting Fairburn for reimbursement of $312,000 in fees Parish President Layton Ricks paid Fairburn for the road work immediately after Ricks took office in January 2012.
Roughly $210,000 of the amount spent fighting Fairburn has gone to Richard Zimmerman, the council’s special attorney on the Fairburn matters whom the council has authorized to spend up to $235,000. Zimmerman recommended during executive session Monday that the council settle the case, Councilwoman Joan Landry indicated in making the motion to settle.
The parish also faces a $16,500 bill from Harold Adkins, the council’s special attorney who sought a court order to compel Ricks to pay the legal fees of two council members Fairburn sued personally for allegedly defamatory comments they made about the firm. Judge Brenda Ricks, no relation to the parish president, ordered Layton Ricks to pay the legal fees, but the parish president has said he will appeal that ruling.
The bills for the two council members would tack on an additional $28,000 to the mounting legal costs of fighting Fairburn.
“If the roadwork cases go to trial (and with the inevitable appeal either way), the parish will have spent TWICE what it has already spent,” Rhorer warned in his email to parish officials. “Livingston Parish taxpayers should be outraged.”
Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.